Sit. Stay. Heal
For mobile vets, house calls are the norm
Ozzy isn’t sure about the ladies with the needle. The Jack Russell-Dalmatian mix warily eyes the women kneeling on owner Mary Quayle’s kitchen floor, even though the ladies in pink T-shirts pat the ground and offer treats. Ozzy would rather not be Mobile Pet Vets’ first patient of the day.
Dr. Lisa Beagan and tech Robin Hennick brush off Ozzy’s rejection. They have plenty of time to win over the anxious pup. House calls don’t have a time limit.
Eventually, Ozzy accepts cuddles and ear scratches from Hennick, who distracts the pup during Beagan’s body check and vaccination. Ozzy barely notices the injection, but he does notice his treat.
As Ozzy skitters around the kitchen, Beagan and Hennick discuss his upcoming neutering with Quayle and recommend agility training to increase the puppy’s confidence.
House calls are “super-duper convenient,” says Quayle, who uses the service for her other dog and two cats. “And I feel like I’m getting more personal care.”
The vaccination, which would have taken a few minutes in a veterinary clinic, takes a little over 30 minutes in the Quayle kitchen. These extra minutes ensure that Ozzy remains calm and gets the attention that humans want from their own doctors.
Mobile vets work around your schedule, keep animals relaxed and get to know the personalities and quirks of their patients. In Anne Arundel and Calvert counties, a growing clientele is taking them up on their offer of quality care and convenience.
“We have clients who have many pets,” Beagan explains. “We have clients who work from the home and want to have the convenience of being able to work and still have us come. We have clients who have young kids and don’t want to have to bring the whole family to the veterinary office for a visit. We have older people who don’t drive. We have pets who don’t travel well. We have people who are well known who would rather not sit in an office.”
Taking to the Road
Beagan began her veterinarian career on the road as an equine vet, tending patients in their barns.
During seven later years of vet clinic work, Beagan observed that many of her patients were tense on the exam table, stressed by unfamiliar surroundings, the scents of other animals and a bustling clinic. She missed the laid-back comfort of the barn calls.
“I felt like I got closer with my clients,” Beagan says. “I got to know them better by going to their homes.”
Starting a family convinced Beagan to take her practice on the road. She founded Mobile Pet Vets in 2003.
“Basically it was a combination of wanting to have a different relationship with my clients, having it be more convenient for them, and my personal life as well,” she explains.
After 12 years working in a busy clinic, Kristina Darnell decided that house calls provided a better quality of care for her animal patients.
In Calvert County, Dr. Kristina Darnell of Darnell’s Mobile Veterinary Service has also taken her practice on the road.
The former Prince Frederick Animal Hospital doctor turned mobile a little over a year ago. After 12 years working in a busy clinic where routine exams would be interrupted by emergency calls and consultations, Darnell decided that house calls provided a better quality of care.
“I was really sick of seeing dogs and cats taken to the hospital for their last day,” Darnell says. “They didn’t want to be there, and it just broke my heart. It wasn’t as intimate or compassionate a setting as I would want it to be.”
Vets who come calling on you must meet the same state standards as vets on whom you call. Beyond those requirements, each sets up her business as she sees fit. Darnell travels alone on most calls. When a patient requires an extra pair of hands, she calls in one of two part-time vet techs or her husband, who is strong enough to handle larger patients.
Beagan runs Mobile Pet Vets in tandem with veterinary technician Robin Hennick, who manage the business and accompanies her on calls.
Packing for Work
In going mobile, both Darnell and the Beagan-Hennick team left behind clinic comforts. They perform exams in a kitchen or a bathroom, work on their hands and knees instead of using hip-high exam tables and, if the patient feels more comfortable, take the exam outside.
“You have to learn how to do things a bit differently,” says Beagan, whose practice ranges from wellness exams to preventative medicine to acupuncture. “All of us have to be more flexible about what we’re willing to do.”
The exchange, vet tech Hennick agrees, “is definitely worthwhile. I’d rather change our style a little and have everybody be more comfortable.”
For patients, comfort means less stress and, often, fewer drugs. Anesthesia is far less frequent at home than in the clinic. “I can count on one hand the times we’ve had to do that in seven years at home,” says Beagan, who attributes the difference to a pet’s lower anxiety on home turf.
With cars as their offices, mobile vets also sacrifice the comfort of space. But each has found her own way of working within the confines of her mobile office.
Beagan’s Honda Element serves as an office, storeroom and refrigerated truck. It’s loaded with a portable printer, medication and more. Heat-sensitive medications and injections must be iced down in coolers, which take up more space. Hennick adds a laptop with the billing and appointment information.
“The car is totally stocked,” says Beagan. “When you’re there, you want to be able to bring what you need.”
Blood and oxygen machines can’t be stuffed into Darnell’s Hyundai Elantra, so she’s chosen prevention over acute care.
“I mainly do preventive medicine,” explains Darnell. “If you’ve got a real sick animal, I’m not the one.”
Too Big to Handle
Really big animals are also beyond the scope of these two mobile practices.
Darnell limits her practice by species and geography. She treats only cats and dogs, and only in Calvert and St. Mary’s counties. She’s also particular about size and temperament.
“If they’re 100 pounds and more aggressive, or if they need to be sedated to be seen normally at a vet, I’m probably not going to do that call,” she says. “I don’t like to sedate animals outside of the hospital, since I don’t have an oxygen machine or a crash cart.”
Mobile Pet Vets serve a slightly wider range of mammals — as long as they’re small.
“We don’t do large animals,” Beagan explains. “We do small animals. We do not do birds and reptiles, because I think they’re really specialized and they ought to be seen by a specialist for those species.”
As for her original love, Beagan says she doesn’t miss equine medicine.
“I like horses, but I don’t miss the hours of horses,” she says. “You’re on call all the time.”
She’s learned not to bend her rules.
“We had to go on a call where the owner had a farm,” Beagan recalls. “She asked us if we could look at the goat. It was not a little goat. It was a big goat.” A big aggressive goat.
“We got a lot of bruises that day,” the vet reports. But the goat got better.
No Place Like Home
Home care has specific advantages beyond convenience, the vets and their human clients agree.
Darnell ranks seeing her patient’s home environment as the biggest benefit of at-home care.
“I get to know my clients better,” she says. “You get a better picture of how the family runs and how the animal is treated.”
The Beagan-Hennick team has helped young Ozzy’s owner, Mary Quayle, decide how to raise the pup,
“Lisa has been really good, especially with the puppy about teaching me good ways of behavior modification,” Quayle says.
Even end-of-life consultations, the hardest of all vet visits, are more endurable at home.
Hennick reports that the diagnosis isn’t always dire once the team is on the scene. “A lot of times, we’ll see something that we can help with, and we’ll end up helping the animal instead. That’s my favorite call.”
When the time comes for euthanasia, Beagan and Hennick believe that being home is more humane for their patients and their owners.
When Beagan worked at the clinic, she says animals would “look at you like What are you gonna do to me? In the house, it’s more of a Please help me, I know you can help me, as opposed to being afraid of us. And the owner then doesn’t have to be all upset and drive home.”
On the Road Again
Beagan and Hennick’s second appointment is a wellness checkup on Labrador Lola in Crownsville.
After Lola’s greeting romp, the Peeler children, Sarah and Will, help corral the dog in the kitchen. Hennick again gets cuddle duty as Beagan injects Lola and inspects a bump on her hind leg.
The leg is fine, but Lola’s ears are another story. An infection has started, so Beagan adds a thorough ear cleaning to the visit. Lola’s tail stops wagging, but she remains calm.
Exam over, Lola runs to the kids for carrot treats, which Beagan approves for the chubby Lab.
“I like that our job is much more varied than it was in the hospital,” Beagan says. “It’s never boring, never the same.”
Beagan and Hennick pack up their medical kits. Lola wags her tail and weaves around the pair.
It’s nice to get visits.
Mobile Pet Vets (Anne Arundel County): 410-544-8300; www.mobilepetvet.com.
Darnell’s Mobile Veterinary Service (Calvert County) 9am-8pm M-F; 10am-4pm Su: 443-975-2495; www.darnellsmobilevet.com.